You’re Pregnant, Not Fat

If you’ve ever fretted about your weight or struggled with body image, even a little, pregnancy can be a big, fat trigger for all those old worries and emotions that make us feel less-than, ugly, lame, and like we just plain suck. Even if we’re smart enough to know that bathing in those feelings is like drinking toxic mind-body slime.

I know for me, as someone who’s struggled with weight and body image issues since age 12, the wonderful days of feeling beautiful, round, and fertile, alternate with days full of thoughts like, “My arms are too fat,” “Is that baby or ice cream making my belly so big?” and “I wanna be like one of those women who look like she swallowed a watermelon, not pregnant all over. Wah.”

Thank goddess my husband is there in these moments to remind me of a simple, elusive truth, “YOU’RE PREGNANT, NOT FAT.” Whew.

These thoughts are often abetted, though, by commentary on the two concurrent celebrity pregnancies in my face at every newsstand I pass: Kim and Kate—one “fat,” one “thin.” It’s like my worst nightmare, body-dysmorphic mind-warps are somehow validated and writ large when I see a magazine cover offering harsh analysis of Kim Kardashian—”Even her armpits are fat,” read one cover line. And then spotting published comments that make me gasp about Kate Middleton—”She’s one of those very lucky women to barely gain any weight at all during pregnancy,” said one prominent designer.

Both of those psycho-banana extremes make me nuttier in my nutty moments, but overall actually snap me back to sanity. Because, really, armpit fat? Can you get more petty? And lucky? To have hyperemesis gravidarum—morning sickness on steroids—and then the mad pressure of having your every contour on the evening news? Now that Kate is feeling better, in my mind, they are both gorgeous examples of healthy pregnant women manifesting their bumps in very different ways—because they are different people with different genes and cultural backgrounds and babies-to-be.

Our culture just feels better about itself when it’s shaming women for their weight—especially how women look during pregnancy, which seems to be a verdict on their mothering skills-to-be. What is lucky is being an ordinary woman, away from that full glare of judgment, who mainly just has to contend with the (admittedly daunting) voices in her head. OK, and, random strangers making odd comments. And maybe a family member trying to be “helpful.” But still.

Sure, being weighed monthly is not the best for me; I’ve avoided scales as part of the process of healing from an eating disorder back in high school. Though I do want to be in a healthy weight range without backsliding into obsession—a not always easy balance. And watching my body bloom in ways that feel beyond my control sometimes makes me want to hide under the bed—if only I could still fit.

But really, when instead of engaging the mean girl voices  in my head, I engage my body in doing yummy things—yoga, walking in the park, drinking plenty of water—I get in touch with the spectacular miracle occurring right here, right now. The possibly once-in-a-lifetime miracle that I will miss if I’m too busy obsessing about upper arm girth or the fact that I had some pudding yesterday.

So often I have looked back on photos of myself and thought, I looked great, I can’t believe I felt fat that night. I can’t believe I let it affect my mood. I don’t want to have the same regrets about this mad-fleeting, precious moment. I want to be here, present, awake, attuned to the sweet fishy swimming around in my belly. Just as I want to be when he’s outside of it.

One thing that’s helped the most is my prenatal yoga class. I look at the all the glorious bumps around me—some fuller, some sleeker, some rounder, some oblonger—in all their various phases, and my giggly awe make me more present, accepting, and able to evaporate those nasty wet-blanket thoughts with fresh, grateful sunshine.